Now that the NHL and NHLPA have resolved their issues in the meeting rooms. We can get back to business on the ice. The NHL season is going to be fast and furious and will be over before you know it. No teams can have an extended losing streak if they want to make the playoffs. A 4-5 game losing streak could really put a strain on their seasons. Here are the preseason predictions of what the NHL season will end up like at the end of April going into the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. Earl tackles the East, while Mike takes on the West.
1. Boston Bruins – The Bruins essentially return their entire roster from last year. They have the best two-way forward corps in the NHL hands down. No one can match it. Anchoring the D will be the monster Norris Trophy winner Zedeno Chara once again. The one big question mark this season will be in goal. Goalie Tim Thomas held true to his words and will remain on sabbatical this season and not play. Tuukka Rask will get his big chance to step up and be the #1 guy. I believe he is ready for it.
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: Tim Thomas, Greg Zanon, Joe Corvo
2. New York Rangers – The Blueshirts probably had the best overall defensive team in the NHL last season, but time and time again they could not get a goal when they needed it. Badly in need of some scoring, the Rangers held out and got winger Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets for half of their original asking price. With Nash adding probably 15-20 goals in this shortened season, Henrik Lundqvist might not need to sport a sub 2 GAA.
Key Additions: Rick Nash, Arron Asham, Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern
Key Losses: John Mitchell, Ruslan Fedotenko, Jeff Woywitka, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov
3. Pittsburgh Penguins – The Penguins made the biggest move at the NHL draft this summer by dealing center Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes after Staal declined the Penguins 10-year, $60 million contract extension. In return, the Pens got center Brandon Sutter and a couple of top defense prospects. Sutter is very good defensively, but he will be hard pressed to put up the offensive numbers Staal did. I just don’t believe that Malkin and Crosby can both stay healthy ever. That’s why I have them in the #3 spot.
Key Additions: Brandon Sutter, Tomas Vokoun, Tanner Glass
Key Losses: Jordan Staal, Steve Sullivan, Zbynek Michalek
4. Philadelphia Flyers – In the land where goalies go to die, another quality one has officially lost his mind. If you watched “24/7” last season, you got to know Russian Cosmonaut, and current Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. The words “Space Cadet” don’t even begin to describe this guy. And that’s where the Flyers success will begin and end. James vanRiemsdyk was the latest Flyers player signed to a long-term contract to be shipped out of town going to Toronto for Luke Schenn. The Leafs probably “won” this trade, but Schenn will provide solid depth on the blueline. With the departure of Matt Carle, that Schenn trade will prove beneficial.
Key Additions: Luke Schenn, Bruno Gervais, Ruslan Fedotenko
Key Losses: Jaromir Jagr, James vanRiemsdyk, Matt Carle
5. Washington Capitals – Will the real Alexander Ovechkin please stand up? New coach Adam Oates is surely going to amp up the offense this season. After averaging nearly 54 goals per season in his first four years, Ovie has been mired in a goal scoring “slump” the past two seasons by only netting 70 total. The Caps turned to a heavy defensive system over the past few seasons and may have contributed to this. But with the aquisition of center Mike Ribero from the Stars, the secondary scoring may finally lift the burden off Ovie.
Key Additions: Mike Ribeiro, Joey Crabb, Wojtek Wolski, coach Adam Oates
Key Losses: Alexander Semin, Dennis Wideman, Tomas Vokoun, Mike Knuble
6. Carolina Hurricanes – Last season the ‘Canes got off to an awful start that buried them from the beginning. They were one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. Kirk Muller was brought in after Paul Maurice was fired and the “Canes play did pick up. At the draft, they acquired another Staal. Eric’s younger brother Jordan, along with former Capitals enigma, Alexander Semin, will bolster the ‘Canes offense. Blueliner Joe Corvo was also signed by Carolina to help bolster the back line. With added scoring this off season, Cam Ward will have to prove that he can get back to the Conn Smythe winning form for the ‘Canes to take this step back into the playoffs.
Key Additions: Alexander Semin, Jordan Staal, Joe Corvo
Key Losses: Brandon Sutter, Bryan Allen, Jaroslav Spacek
7. Ottawa Senators – coming into the 2011-12 season, expectations were as low as they have been in some time for the Sens. But first year head coach Paul MacLean made an immediate impact, leading them to the 8th seed in the East. Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson had a monster season last year, but his defensive partner, Filip Kuba, took his talents to South Beach. It will be interesting to see how he preforms with a more stay at home type of partner in Marc Methot. As with many teams in the East, goaltending will be a huge question mark for the Sens. Craig Anderson and Ben Bishop are hardly top flight net-minders, but Bishop has dominated at the minor league level. Only time will tell.
Key Additions: Guillaume Latendresse, Mike Lundin, Marc Methot, Ben Bishop
Key Losses: Filip Kuba, Matt Carkner, Zenon Konopka, Nick Foligno
8. New York Islanders – I am going to go out on a limb here not only because I am a homer, but with a shortened season anything can happen. And why not to this group? John Tavares leads this ultra-young crew as one of the best players in the league already in only his 4th season. The Islanders announcement of their move to Brooklyn in a few years seems to have energized this franchise and they are ready to make the next step. Young players such as Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Nino Niederreiter, are going to be leaned upon heavily in the not so distant future to lead this team to the promised land. With Evgeni Nabokov back between the pipes for the Isles, they can win on any given night. Here’s to a sleeper season by the Isles.
Key Additions: Brad Boyes, Lubomir Visnovsky (currently crying in the KHL, not honoring his NHL contract), Matt Carkner
Key Losses: P.A. Parenteau, Al Montoya
9. Tampa Bay Lightning – Big expectations for the 2011-12 season fell hard last year as the Bolts couldn’t keep the pucks out of their own net. After allowing a league high 278 goals last year, they would go out and try to bolster that porous D corps. They brought in one of the best bakers in the league, Matt Carle. Dude is a turnover machine, with a very bloated contract (5-years $33 million), to try to help potential #1 D-man Victor Hedman. Sami Salo could wind up being the better signing in my opinion. The Bolts also traded for hightly touted youngster, goaltender Anders Lindback from the Predators in a draft day trade. Plain and simple, Steven Stamkos can’t save this team alone. Vincent Lecavalier is a shell of his former self (especially after that absurd contract was signed) and Martin St. Louis isn’t getting any younger.
Key Additions: Anders Lindback, Matt Carle, Sami Salo, B.J. Crombeen, Benoit Pouliot
Key Losses: Dwayne Roloson, Bruno Gervais
10. New Jersey Devils – It’s crazy to think that I’d keep the Stanley Cup runners up out of the playoff picture this year. But I’m sorry Devils fans. I have to. Zach Parise has left for the land of 10,000 lakes and so have a bunch of goals. Scoring AND goaltending is going to be tough to come by this season for the Devils. Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg are both back for another year and at 40 and 39 years old, one is almost guaranteed to break down or lose their skills all together. Ilya Kovalchuk will be forced to be a one man scoring machine this year for the Devils to have any chance of making the playoffs this year, and I just don’t think he can carry them.
Key Additions: Krys Barch – Another reason why they won’t make the playoffs. this was the ONLY addittion.
Key Losses: Zach Parise, Alexei Ponikarovsky
11. Buffalo Sabres – Will only go as far as Ryan Miller will take them. Once tabbed as the best American goalie, he’s been basically average over the past two seasons. With new ownership in place, the Sabres spent money like Magic Johnson’s group with the Dodgers, last season. It got them nothing but a bunch of mediocre players making way too much money. They did address the toughness aspect this off season by getting their hands on Steve Ott and Kevin Porter, but that’s about it. There’s very little I like about this Sabres squad this year and I think there’s a strong possibility that they vie for the #1 pick in the draft.
Key offseason additions: John Scott, Kevin Porter, Steve Ott
Key offseason losses: Brad Boyes, Derek Roy
12. Florida Panthers – Another team from last year that I have taken out of the mix. The Florida Panthers had an incredible season last year that I just don’t think it will be repeatable. I can’t put my finger on why they exactly won the Southeast Division last year, but I don’t think many other people can either. They essentially went the way their top line went. If the trio of Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann were hot, they won. If they weren’t, they lost. Monster powerplay defenseman Jason Garrison has left and the Panthers brought in Filip Kuba to take his place. Paired with Jason Campbell, they will provide a solid puch as the top d-line pair. Keep an eye on Jonathan Huberdeau. He was a top 3 pick a few years ago and it ready for the prime time. He could be the scoring touch they need. As I have said over and over again, goaltending is going to be a crutch for this team. They need someone to step up and take the reigns. Jose Theodore turned the clock back 10 years last season. The Panthers hope he can keep that clock in his equipment bag.
Key offseason additions: Peter Mueller, George Parros, Filip Kuba
Key offseason losses: Jason Garrison, Mikael Samuelsson, Wojtek Wolski, John Madden
13. Montreal Canadians – Between the injuries to the blueline and the coaching change mid-season, the only thing to describe the 2011-12 season was a disaster. Jacques Martin was fired after only a few weeks. Then Randy Cunneyworth was named interim coach and controversy erupted due to a very vocal minority in Quebec because he didn’t speak french. This is apparently way more important to a very vocal minority than the ability to ice a winning hockey team. If this was Twitter, I would have hash tagged that last part with #SMH. The Habs assed Brandon Prust from the Rangers for some solid depth, but why for 4-years and $10 million? Ugh. Alex Galchenyuk has been tearing it up in the Ontario Hockey League over the past few years and my be ready to make the jump to the big club for some much needed scoring. Extremely talented, but an apparent headache, restricted free-agent defenseman P.K. Subban still is not under contract and will prove a costly loss if he is not signed soon. There is a lot of talent here, but nothing seemed to click last year and I’m not sure why this year will be any different.
Key offseason additions: Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong, Francis Bouillon
Key offseason losses: Brad Staubitz
14. Toronto Maple Leafs – Seven straight non-playoff seasons, and the only team not to make the playoffs coming out of the 2004-05 lockout. That’s pretty amazing…and pathetic. It’s amazing that a team with talent like Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Mikhail Grabovski can keep missing the playoffs. GM Brian Burke may have been a reason. He was relieved of his duty basically as soon as the latest lockout ended. Perhaps due to his inability to ever land a true #1 goaltender or just his huge ego, it was time for him to go. But his offseason trade of former top 5 draft pick Luke Schenn to the Flyers for James vanRiemsdyk might be a stepping stone for a turnaround. James Reimer and Ben Scrivens are the key to this season for the Leafs, and will be their downfall. The goaltending situation here is as bad as any in the league. The new GM MUST get an NHL caliber goalie in here for this team to have any chance.
Key offseason additions: James vanRiemsdyk Jay McClement, Keith Aucoin
Key offseason losses: Luke Schenn, Colby Armstrong, Joey Crabb
15. Winnipeg Jets – Last season was a fantastic one for the Jets. Even though they did not make the playoffs, the building was packed every single night and they made a run at the playoffs. Ultimately they did not get there but it was a huge step in bringing the excitement back to Manitoba. Now the bad news. Sometimes teams over value their own players. And that’s exactly what the Jets did here. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was given a five-year, $19.5 million extension with the Jets for some crazy reason. That annual salary cap hit is #16 among goalies in the NHL. So basically he’s being paid as an average #1 goaltender in the NHL. Last season he was 29-28-9 with a 2.99 GAA and .906 save percentage. That’s down right BAD. Of the 44 goalies who qualified for the goals against leaders, Pavelec was 38th. Ugh. To make things worse, Pavelec got nailed with a DUI in his native Czech Republic, and his numbers playing the Czech league during the lockout have been just dreadful. Sorry Olli Jokinen, Evander Kane, Kyle Wellwood, etc. this just won’t be your season. It begins and ends with Pavelec. And it might have already ended. Get your ping pong balls ready.
1. Los Angeles Kings- Hard to not put the defending Stanley Cup Champs at the top of the charts in the Western Conference. Jonathan Quick is arguably the best net minder in the NHL and looks to have another stellar season. Team’s usually have the Cup hangovers after they win and party all summer long but with the shortened season, the party should have ended a while ago and after the banner and rings ceremony, it should be business as usual.
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: None
2. St. Louis Blues- With the season being shortened, a dynamic goalie combination will be more vital than any other season. With the amount of back to back games and three games in four nights, having two goaltenders will be huge. The Blues have two goalies that should lead them well into the playoffs. Jarsolav Halak and Brian Elliott are as good as a goalie tandem gets. The only problem with the Blues will be scoring goals. If they can figure that out, they should be in the Western Conference Finals.
Key Additions: Jeff Woywitka, Andrew Murray
Key Losses: Carlo Colaiacovo, B.J. Crombeen
3. Chicago Blackhawks- The Blackhawks seem to have enough depth all over the ice after you get past the first two lines on both offense and defense. The big question mark here is Corey Crawford and how he will hold up. The goal scoring is there with Jonathan Toews, who could be an MVP candidate, Patrick Sharp, a healthy Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane. Duncan Keith needs to come back and be the Norris Trophy winner that he was 3 years ago and play like that again. Solid defense and goal tending will help get the Hawks deep into the playoffs.
Key Additions: Michal Rozsival, Sheldon Brookbank
Key Losses: Sami Lepisto, Andrew Brunnette, Brandon Morrison, Sean O’Donnell
4. Detroit Red Wings – The post Nicklas Lidstrom era starts in Detroit. The Henrik Zetterberg as team captain era begins. The Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg have to be leaders of this team to make sure they stay focused and on track in this short season. With Jordan Tootoo coming from Nashville will give some toughness to a team that hasn’t had the toughness in awhile. Jimmy Howard still remains in net and will be counted on even more without Lidstrom and Brad Stuart in from of him.
Key Additions: Jonas Gustavsson, Jordin Tootoo, Damien Brunner, Mikael Samuelsson, Carlo Colaiacovo
Key Losses: Jiri Hudler, Brad Stuart, Nicklas Lidstrom
5. Phoenix Coyotes- The Coyotes were able to get all the way to the Western Conference Finals before they were knocked off by the Kings, but there are high hopes in the desert. Without Ryan Whitney there it will be a struggle, but Shane Done is still around and his leadership will be vital in this short season. Mike Smith will need to have another great year in net if the Yotes want to have another long run in the playoffs.
Key Additions: Zbynek Michalek, David Moss, Steve Sullivan, Nick Johnson
Key Losses: Ray Whitney, Michal Rozsival, Adrian Aucoin, Taylor Pyatt
6. Vancouver Canucks- Not sure how to go about looking at the Canucks. The Roberto Luongo situation is still up in the air and without Ryan Kesler and David Booth, there will be some obstacles that need to be overcome. Luckily the Sedin twins are still around and very powerful together. The Canucks need to get off to a hot start and keep the team focus to what is going on on the ice rather than what is happening with Luongo.
Key Additions: Jason Garrison
Key Losses: Sami Salo, Aaron Rome, Samuel Pahlsson
7. Minnesota Wild- With all the money spent this off season to get Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, I still had to put the Wild 7th. If these guys plus Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu can produce to how they are suppose to, then you will see the Wild a lot higher in the rankings by the end of the year. Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding will be a good combination in net but will the defense in front of them hold up all 48 games.
Key Additions: Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka
Key Losses: Nick Johnson, Guillaume Latendresse, Mike Lundin
8. San Jose Sharks- This is another one that is hard to predict. The Sharks have guys that can score but they are all getting older. The Marleau, Thorton, Pavelski line is great but they are getting older and older. The defense is good on paper but when will Brent Burns come back and be the top D man that he can be? Niemi is a Stanley Cup Winning goaltender, but can he get back to playing to that level.
Key Additions: Adam Burish, Brad Stuart
Key Losses: Daniel Winnik, Dominic Moore, Torrey Mitchell, Andrew Murray
9. Edmonton Oilers-This a very young hockey team and if they play to their potential they could move up the rankings pretty fast but they are very unproven. Ryan Whitney brings some veteran leadership and some help to the blue line but it all starts up front and if the kids can stay committed to playing 48 games. Can Devan Dubnyk play like a top goaltender will be a question also. He needs to be better than a .500 goalie to help this team move up to an elite team in the West.
Key Additions: Nail Yakupov, Justin Schultz
Key Losses: None
10. Dallas Stars- The Stars have added some age to their roster but not sure if Jagr and Ray Whitney still have a lot in the tank to play and play at a high level in this condensed 48 game schedule. The Stars need to stay healthy to have a chance to challenge for a playoff spot this year.
Key Additions: Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney, Derek Roy, Aaron Rome, Cody Eakin
Key Losses: Mike Ribeiro, Steve Ott, Sheldon Souray, Adam Burish
11. Nashville Predators- With Ryan Suter gone, who will play along side Shea Weber? You might see a variety of guys on the top D line with Weber. Pekka Rinne is still in net and that will be savior for this team. Hopefully the offense will help Rinne win some games because he ins’t going to be able to win them all in a fast and furious Central Division.
Key Additions: Chris Mason, Scott Hannan
Key Losses: Ryan Suter, Francis Bouillon, Jordin Tootoo, Jack Hillen, Anders Lindback, Alexander Radulov
12. Anaheim Ducks- The Ducks are interesting because they are very good on the top line with Getlaf, Ryan, and Corey Perry but after that they are very thin. The defense is just as thin and unproven. Jonas Hiller will have to play great to make up for the thin defense in front of him and the lack of goals that the Ducks will most likely score.
Key Additions: Bryan Allen, Sheldon Souray, Daniel Winnik, Brad Staubitz
Key Losses: Lubomir Visnovsky, Niklas Hagman, Sheldon Brookbank, George Parros
13.Colorado Avalanche- The Avs have a tremendous upside but I am not sure if it will show in this condensed schedule and lack of training camp. Paul Stastny will be interesting to watch to see how he can produce and who he will be playing with. Look for the Avs to be good next season and seasons after that.
Key Additions: P.A. Parenteau, John Mitchell, Greg Zanon
Key Losses: Jay McClement, Peter Mueller, Kevin Porter
14. Calgary Flames- With key additions in Dennis Wideman and Jiri Hudler, there just isn’t enough here to make me think the Flames could be even close to making the playoffs this year. The defense will be very good but the offense will be hard to come by. Kipprusoff and Iginla will have to have a unbelievable year to help this team be in the playoff conversation come the end of the year.
Key Additions: Dennis Wideman, Jiri Hudler, Roman Cervenka
Key Losses: Olli Jokinen, Scott Hannan, Tom Kostopoulos, David Moss
15. Columbus Blue Jackets- Let’s just say that the Blue Jackets can’t wait for the draft to get here. With Rick Nash gone, there isn’t very much firepower here to compete with the teams in the central division. Look for them in the next couple of years to make waves in the draft and to rebuild.
Key Additions: Sergei Bobrovsky, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Nick Foligno, Adrian Aucoin
Key Losses: Rick Nash, Marc Methot, Aaron Johnson